It’s been a long time since I’ve covered an event in Japan. Too long. But this last weekend, I was finally able to get out of the house and taste a little bit of normality.
When a friend told me that he was entering this year’s Attack event at Tsukuba Circuit, I had locked it in my diary before I even knew what he’d be driving. The prospect of getting up before dawn on a freezing winter’s day and driving two hours to a track in the middle of nowhere never felt so good.
As I had my eldest son in tow, I arrived at Tsukuba a little later than I usually do, but still long before the track opened. This was his second outing to this event, but he’s now at an age that he can actually understand what’s going on. That said, I spent half the time explaining what engine and aero modifications were made to every car we stopped to look at. I also had to give reasons why they weren’t quite as fast as the F1 machines he compares every other car to.
My first order of business was to take a quick walk up pit lane, starting from the very end where Fire Ando’s record-setting Escort Evo was parked up.
During my coverage from last year’s event, I mentioned how Ando-san reset the Tsukuba AWD record with a crazy 50.739-second lap. Well, I’m happy to report that in 2021 that time has dropped to 50.492-seconds – super-impressive and a real testament to the relentless work the team put into the car.
I really need to drop by Escort and get the nitty-gritty on this Evo for a tech-based feature. Ando’s short-term goal is a 49-second lap at Tsukuba – uncharted territory for a time attack car.
The Scorch Soarer has what it takes to nip at the heels of the Escort Evo, but the team was dealing with some engine issues on the day and didn’t get the chance for a proper attempt.
Under Suzuki was helping out Bando-san in the paddock, so I took the opportunity to ask him about his S15. It’s not quite finished yet, but based on its previous performances it’s still the fastest time attack car to have lapped Tsukuba. Bando’s fastest is 52.454-seconds, which makes him two seconds slower than Suzuki-san.
The second fastest car on this day was the supercharged Arvou Honda S2000, which was looking simply stunning with its Voltex exterior. 53.887-seconds is an impressive time and a massive improvement over the low 55-second lap it had previously achieved. This is another car that I really need to explore in detail.
While the Friend’s Racing S15 posted the third fastest time 54.332-second lap (far from their best of 53.889), it was the shop’s new Subaru Impreza WRX STI demo car that really grabbed my attention. While it doesn’t rely on crazy aero, it might soon be evolved – as tends to happen with all time attack builds. As it sits now though, the Impreza is very close to breaking into the 57-second zone having run a best of 58.134.
If there’s one car that truly impressed me though, it was the Garage G-Force GR Yaris, as driven by Nobuteru ‘Nob’ Taniguchi. This is one of two cars G-Force is building, and is currently running a stripped out interior (that has seen 100kg shaved from the curb weight) and a first round of engine modifications that has boosted power to 410PS. This is partly achieved through a MoTeC ECU running revised ignition and fuel maps to account for the higher boost.
To make the most of this newfound power, both the front and rear diffs have been upgraded with aftermarket LSDs, and the suspension features a prototype G-Force coilover kit.
The little Yaris managed a 58.573-second lap on the day, which is only a tenth slower than the wide-body HKS car I showed you guys late last year. That’s an incredible time for a car that in stock form laps Tsukuba in the mid-63-second zone. Toyota has built some insane potential into the GR Yaris, and Garage G-Force is shooting for 55-seconds with this project.
Auto Produce Boss also brought out their GR Yaris demo car, but this one is still very much in road-going spec.
I did spot an HKS Power Editor installed though. This is a new-gen boost controller that HKS has released for cars that employ electronic or negative pressure control actuators. The chief mechanic at Garage G-Force told me that the stock Toyota ECU is almost impenetrable, so if you want to get into the fuel and ignition maps your best bet – at least for now – is to custom wire in a standalone ECU.
Another surprise on the day was this Nissan Onevia from S ☆ Complete and BMD. The car has an amateur feel about it, but stunned all with a 54.703-second lap, making it the fourth fastest. It already looked glued to the ground coming out of the last corner exiting onto the main straight, so it will be interesting to see how the car progresses at future events. You can watch an onboard video of the lap here.
Our friends at M’s Machine Works have polished their Porsche Cayman into something very special.
The car not only looks sensational with a refined aero package, it’s beautifully set up.
This really could be the GT3 race car version of the Cayman, if Porsche ever decided to make one. M’s bettered their best time by some margin, posting a 56.911-second lap. There’s some irony in the final three numbers of that time!
As I continued my walk up pit lane, engine and drivelines were starting to be warmed up. We were now only 10 minutes away from the first session.
Before that, there were still a couple of Mazdas I needed to check out.
The Y’s Produce FD3S RX-7 is owned by my friend Yuki who, over the last four to five years, has been perfecting it for time attack.
You might expect to see a 13B with a big single turbo sitting alongside it in the engine bay, but Yuki didn’t take the easy road. You’re looking at a hand-built Scoot four-rotor with no boost in sight.
Yuki had a mixed day. He recorded an impressive 57.594-second lap, but then had to retire the FD with power steering issues. Despite that, his RX-7 was easily the best-sounding car at Tsukuba.
Providing a very different soundtrack – pretty much the polar opposite of a four-rotor Wankel – was this C6 Corvette. Take a look at that rear wing, and the Endless brake package front and rear for an extra dose of JDM-ness. It ran a sold sub-minute lap with a 59.629.
In the main paddock area, away from the serious time attack hardware, I found a couple of other interesting imports, including this Renault Megane RS that posted a 1.03.030 lap.
And this E46 M3 prepped by Sun Beam in Tokyo, which wasn’t too far behind with a 1.03.294.
It was also cool to see the Lancia Delta Integrale I spotlighted at last year’s event back out doing its thing at 60-seconds flat.
The Tsukuba paddock can hold a lot of cars, and I found this JZA80 Supra pitted up on a little slither of tarmac opposite the gas station. In this area, which is usually gated off at smaller events, were more down-to-earth builds – cars with simpler aero that have been built and refined by their owners with help from their trusty tuner. A very fast 1.01.615 was the Supra’s best lap time.
This tough-looking Honda S2000 was one second slower than the Supra, which means the driver was hauling at ten-tenths.
I had to double check the time of this Exige, as I initially thought it was a mistake. Its 58.846-second lap just goes to show what lightness can yield at a track like Tsukuba. Mind you, these days Exiges pack a ton of power.
This Impreza broke through the 1-minute barrier with a 59.918-second lap too.
At one point I came across an FD traffic jam.
Seeing RX-7s is always a reminder of just how right Mazda got this car. The lap times put down at Tsukuba by FD3S owners range from impressive to barely believable with the higher spec cars. And they do it through a simple combination: an FR layout, lightness, good weight distribution, decent power when tuned, and of course aerodynamics. Simple is always best.
Simple with lots of carbon and boost that is!
Actually, boost is not always required. The ‘Kumomaka’ AE86, built in collaboration with Workshop Takumi, is another reminder that minimalism and fanatical attention to detail can produce impressive results. This Levin hits the scales at 800kg and has 200hp, yet managed a 57.063-second lap. 56s are coming – mind blown.
What’s this? A Tesla Model 3 with Taisan colors? Why not, I guess…
I never saw the car run – probably missed it as I couldn’t hear it – but it lapped in 1.01.635, which is pretty impressive given the weight of these things. I’m sure we’ll be seeing many more EVs hitting the time attack scene in coming years.
The Tesla was two seconds faster than this Lexus GS F, which really makes you think…
I do want to talk about some of the GT-Rs I came across, but I’m going to save those for a separate post.
Before that though, I’m going to take a closer look at the kei cars present. These pocket rockets are often overlooked at time attack events, as most of the attention is directed to the fastest cars. But to me they’re as equally interesting and oh-so-Japanese at the same time.
Check back soon for more from Attack Tsukuba 2021.
Dino Dalle Carbonare